The Free State city of Welkom is one of the most recent cities to come into existence in South Africa. Its beginnings came with the discovery of gold on the farm, Welkom (meaning ‘welcome”). Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, who was then chairman of Anglo American, played a significant role in planning the town, blending industrial, residential and mining areas. Municipal status was declared in 1961 and declaration as a city in 1968.
Since then, Welkom’s growth has been on a fast track so that today it is the second-largest city in the province. As is the case with most South African cities, Welkom is in fact a tale of two cities – Welkom, with its white population, and Thabong, with its black population. In fact, there was a third element too, the ”coloured” Bronville.
With about 10 operational mines producing gold and uranium, Welkom is the heart of the Free State’s Goldfields or Lejweleputsa district. Steel and lumber are also products of the city’s industry and cattle-farming in another important element of the local economy.
Out-of-towners like to joke about Welkom residents watching traffic go round the traffic circles for entertainment, but these circles are a sign of well-considered urban planning. They do indeed make for a smoother traffic flow (drivers suffer far less from “out-of-order traffic light angst”) and so Welkom is justly proud of its “circle city” tag.
Another label it happily wears, and also the consequence of good town planning, is “garden city”. There’s no shortage of shady parks to rest in during the summer heat.
Look out for
A number of mines in Welkom offer below-ground and surface mine tours.
On the subject of things underground, the St Helena Mine has a wine cellar 857 metres below the earth’s surface. This, the world’s deepest wine cellar, is worth visiting.
The Museum of Welkom, located in the public library, narrates the history of the town and the prominent position the discovery of gold has played.
Monuments in Welkom include the Afrikaans Language Monument, the World War Two Monument, the Voortrekker Memorial, the Aandenk (dedicated to miners) and Joanne Pim monuments (Pim designed many of the city’s parks). Look out, too, for the Dog Memorial and the Old Indaba Bluegum Tree.
A regular Welkom highlight is the North Park Flea Market held on the second Saturday of each month, which attracts up to 400 stalls.
For an overview of Welkom, climb the 200 stairs that take you up to the top of the Welkom Publicity Clock Tower.
The city is known for its flocks of flamingos at Flamingo Pan.
Time out can be spent in any of the picturesque city parks – West, Van Riebeeck, Central or Peter Pan.